Armchair traveler

At a certain time of year, the urge to travel seems irrepressible. The worst of winter is past; but the spring, we Northerners know, may be long in coming. Between the unfamiliar warmth we feel in the air and the bursting of a new season will be an eternity of frustrations and deferred hopes. Now is the time to go in search of spring - actively to pursue it, waylaying it upon its journey northward and basking prematurely in its sun.

The question is where to go, and how. Others will have had the same thought as we ourselves; by the thousands they will have gone forth before us, staking out their claim to the very place we have chosen. Or they will descend on us after our arrival, a clamorous group coming to destroy our calm and to shade our sunlight. Wherever we have decided to go, we shall be subject to the same delays in spring's progress as we would have been at home. In some southern latitudes the temperature will be milder, but the disappointment at not finding a perfect clime will make it seem more inhospitable.

Before it is concluded that it would have been better to stay at home in the first place, I propose that we consider a second alternative. This is to take up armchair traveling. To stay at home and yet to let the mind wander; to be bounded by a nutshell and still to take the whole world for our journeying, can be a solution to our dilemma. As a summer sailor I am adept at this kind of voyaging. Each month when that faithful old journal Yachting comes in the post, it brings me a whole universe of dreams.

The best part about Yachting is, in my judgment, the fact that it never changes very much and any one issue is almost precisely like the last. One has only to pick it up to be immediately transported upon seas of delight, where the worst dangers are sure to be survived and balmy days will be extended for as long as the imagination can hold them in mind. I do heartily long for next summer's coming and for real ocean excursions; but in the meanwhile I have this absolute insurance against being landbound in winter.

Many years ago I had as my companion in Venice a volume that led me delightfully into the heart of that fabled city, and it occurred to me recently that I could while away some part of the arctic season by perusing it anew. The book, unfortunately, was not to be found in my somewhat miscellaneous collection. Having mentioned the matter to a friend, I soon learned that she had set a search on foot, and from an antiquarian bookseller came the book itself, handsomely bound in red buckram, published originally in the same year as my birth. A Wanderer in Venice is its title, and E. V. Lucas its genial author. The other evening I spent going in a leisurely way through its pages, and I thought to myself: ''There is no longer a Venice quite like this, and no guide so learned, witty and agreeably perceptive.'' Why go to Venice, with its modern motor boats in the canals and its overwhelming crowds in the squares and churches, when the city can be visited in all its old glory and peace?

Lucas had drunk deep of Ruskin, so that no detail of architecture escaped him; and of Pater, so that the Titians, the Veroneses, the Giorgiones, came alive under the spell of a subtle style. Added to this was a smiling disposition , a tolerance of diverse styles and visions, and a curiosity leading him into byways of history. He knew the right way to approach a city. No question but that for Venice one must arrive by afternoon, he said, by railway, and from Chioggia. Only in this way could the miracle dawn gradually on the imagination. On the other hand, Mr. Lucas assures us, there are many who want their first glimpse of the city to be abrupt, their immersion in its atmosphere to be instantaneous. These must leave London by the 2 o'clock train and not break their journey.

Well, I have chosen to spurn London and its rattling train; and from Chioggia I have taken the little steamer and approached Venice, as she should be approached, by sea. I have seen her from afar, and under Mr. Lucas' tutelage have rounded the island of S. Giorgio Maggiore to have before me, sudden and complete, the domes of St. Mark's, the Campanile, the Doges' Palace and innumerable towers marking churches which I shall presently enter.

Compared with this way of traveling, does not the bustle of the real world seem a snare? Mr. Lucas, of course, didn't intend his book to be put to this use; he was a serious wayfaring man, and he expected his readers to be as energetic as he. But time has set a mist between ourselves and the city as he described it; history with its noisy progress has subtly altered the scene since he wrote. At least in this case we should be permitted, in good conscience, to dream a little by the home fire.

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